Friday, November 15, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Banana Balls: Turn Off the Dark

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody marvels at the god of thunder.


"Born of eternal night, the Dark Elves come to steal away the light."

5000 years ago, the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, evil creatures that were birthed out of and reigned supreme within the darkness that existed before our universe came into being, under the leadership of an elf named Malekith, took advantage of The Convergence, the alignment of the Nine Realms/Nine Worlds, to attempt to release a force called the Aether, something that appears to be a sentient fluid, which once unleashed would again plunge the universe into darkness, changing matter into dark matter. It is only thanks to the efforts of the warriors of the world Asgard and their King Bor (father of Odin, grandfather of Thor) that the Dark Elves were defeated before they could carry out their plan. While Malekith and a handful of surviving elves retreated in an interstellar ship, Bor had the Aether buried, hidden.

In the present day, Thor is just finishing cleaning up the mess, the war on multiple realms, that was caused by the actions of his villainous adopted brother Loki in the 2011 Thor film and The Avengers crossover. While his fellow warriors celebrate their victory, Thor longs for the woman he left behind on Midgard - that's Earth to you and me - two years prior, at the end of the first Thor movie, astrophysicist Jane Foster.

On Earth, Jane is also still pining for love lost, hurt from being abandoned by the "god" from a world she cannot reach, when she and her cohorts Professor Erik Selvig - who has been driven "banana balls" by his experience in The Avengers - and Darcy Lewis, not to mention Darcy's hapless intern Tim, discover evidence in the Greenwich district of London that The Convergence is again approaching. Although, they don't know what The Convergence is. In a building where gravity is out of skew and portals have opened to other worlds, Jane accidentally enters one of the portals and is infected with the Aether.

With The Convergence imminent, Malekith and his soldiers are awakened from the suspended animation they've been in on board their ship for the past 5000 years and, not being ones to give up easily, set out to find the Aether and again attempt to turn the universe dark as the worlds align.

By pure bad luck and coincidence, Jane Foster finds herself in the middle of a battle with the fate of trillions of lives across the Nine Worlds at stake. To keep the woman he loves safe, Thor must finish the job his grandfather started and defeat Malekith once and for all...

Along the way he deals with life decisions, personal tragedy, and ultimately has to seek help from the last person he would ever choose to - his mischievous, untrustworthy brother Loki.

Having gone through the character arc from being an arrogant fool to a man worthy to wield the hammer Mjolnir in his previous solo outing, Thor is a much better hero the sequel time around, and The Dark World is much more the sort of film overall that I would expect a Thor movie to be. The first Thor always seemed a bit lackluster to me, with so much of it being set in a tiny New Mexico town and the "look how this guy from another world behaves here!" comedy. It was reminiscent of the Masters of the Universe feature from the late '80s, which took the fish-out-of-water approach and transplanted He-Man and company into modern day America simply for budgetary reasons... and at least the town they ended up in had actual neighborhoods.

The Dark World doesn't have that problem, doing the sequel reversal - this time a lot more of it is set in Asgard and other non-Midgard realms, Jane goes to Asgard instead of Thor coming to Earth. The story plays up the fantasy aspect of Thor, with space elves and a Star Wars-esque battle and aerial vehicle chase sequences. At the same time, the style director Alan Taylor goes with grounds it all in a sort of reality. The setting may be otherworldy, but these other worlds aren't completely incomprehensible. I did find that this grounded approach worked against the look of the film at one point early in the film, where there are different species of humanoids at battle in a field, some of them horned guys who would fit in on a '70s album cover, but these unusual looking fellows don't look quite right when they're shot standing around in a field in broad daylight.

The cast is great, as you would expect from a group that includes Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, and Chris O'Dowd. Chris Hemsworth has proven to be perfect in the role of Thor, even if his looks cause my girlfriend to like the character "for the wrong reasons", while Tom Hiddleston has earned a place in the hearts of many a fanboy and fangirl with his performances as the delightfully hateful Loki.

The film does have its weaknesses, including the fact that its lead villain Malekith makes barely any impression at all. It's not the fault of the actor beneath the makeup, Christopher Eccleston, he's just not given all that much to do besides being angry and elvish. Malekith's right hand man Algrim, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, is more memorable, mainly because he becomes a badass hulking beast called Kurse. Still, it is once again Hiddleston's Loki that is the standout among the baddies.

The storytelling also has some gaps, most notably for me in the subplot involving the choice that is presented to Thor in the romance department - pursue a relationship with the human Jane Foster and lose her in what is only a short amount of time for him, as the people of Asgard live for thousands of years, or go with Jaimie Alexander's character the lady warrior Sif, a fellow Asgardian who knows his way of life. Thor makes his choice in favor of Jane quickly and easily, though, and despite hints that there will be a rivalry for Thor's affections between the women once Jane is in Asgard, this aspect is dropped before it goes anywhere and Sif then disappears from the film completely.

Regardless of its issues, I still found Thor: The Dark World to be highly enjoyable; a fun and exciting fantasy adventure with some cool action sequences, entertaining characters, and a good sense of humor. There was even a moment that shocked me, and an awesome surprise cameo.

Like Iron Man Three, T: TDW is a solid entry in Phase Two of Marvel's Cinematic Universe (Phase One being the Iron Man - The Incredible Hulk - Iron Man 2 - Thor - Captain America series of films culminating with The Avengers). The aftermath of The Avengers is handled quite well, and there are hints throughout this film of what's to come in the MCU's future, things that may not even come fully into play until the post-Avengers 2 Phase Three. I really love how Marvel is putting together and building on this interconnected world of films, as a lifelong Marvel devotee it is wonderful to watch all of this happen... Bring on April's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.


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